School Superintendent Morton Sherman has requested nearly 60 additional full-time positions to deal with the continued growth in Alexandria's student body.
Since fiscal 2008, city schools have added about 1,400 students. Next year, 382 new students are projected to enter the system, said Stacey Johnson, director of budget and grants for the schools. That would be about 1,800 students since 2008, or the equivalent of four elementary schools, she said.
To handle the students and maintain educational programs and class sizes while offering step increases for staff members, Sherman increased employee contributions to pension payments and shuffled teaching positions in his proposed $210.3 million budget for fiscal 2012.
"A lot of that is catching up for the past two years," Sherman said. "While we have had rapidly increasing enrollments, our budget is pretty flat."
He proposed a 4.6 percent increase from the current school budget. Because of rising enrollment, however, city and state per-student appropriations have declined, Johnson said.
The proposed budget includes a 3 percent step increase for employees, an additional $2 million for teachers and support staff members if an extended calendar waiver is approved and a debate over 30 additional minutes of instructional time is resolved.
Employees would contribute more to their city pension plans, and some newer employees might have to pay a larger amount into their state plans, as well.
Refiguring the pension plans would free up $2.5 million for the school system, Johnson said.
"Teachers are not hourly workers. This 3 percent is a professional salary increase to do the job," Sherman said. He said Alexandria is the only local school district that has offered step increases for its employees for the past three years. "The total package for me is a rather respectful approach for a salary," he said.
At Thursday's School Board meeting, board member Mimi Carter said Alexandria pays a small percentage of teacher pensions compared with other localities. "How are we competitive?" she asked.
Margaret Byess, the school system's deputy superintendent, said adjusting teacher pensions to be more competitive would be very expensive and "something that will be on the table as we talk about compensation and benefits reform" in the budget processes. She said the take-home salary and the longevity steps for employees at the top of the pay scale make the system attractive to potential employees.
The proposed budget offers a few new high school classes, including a forensics class and career-training programs. It also maintains funding for International Baccalaureate classes in the primary and middle schools, as well as the Achievement Via Individual Determination program, which gives mid-level students help in moving to a college path.
Sherman has proposed two unfunded initiatives totaling $1.9 million: continuing a pre-kindergarten rollout to four more classrooms and providing fresh fruit and vegetable snacks in elementary schools.
Sherman said he is hopeful that additional revenue will be available from the city to fund those programs.
The School Board's first work session on the budget will be Thursday, followed by public hearings and more work sessions. A vote on the budget is scheduled for Feb. 24.